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Defending pastoralist communities

Concern Worldwide is working with pastoralist communities whose lives are being threatened by drought and by a changing world. A recent article in The Economist put forward a view that would threaten these communities, so we have written a response.

Helema Guy, left, and Kula Roba, right, stands with some of their sheep at a Concern Worldwide offtake programme in the village of Sidama in the Badasa locality of northern Kenya, near Marsabit.

A view of the future

The article was called “Meat and Greens,” and argued that the future of meat production is to replace African pastoralism with intensive livestock production.

A reply

On behalf of the The Coalition of European Lobbies on Eastern African Pastoralism, of which Concern is a member, Thomas Sommerhalter and I wrote the following response:

Dear sir,

Though your article raises important issues, it is based on fundamentally flawed assumptions.

It assumes that intensive livestock production can replace the traditional pastoral method. This is highly unlikely as pastoralists exploit environments that are unsuitable for more intensive livestock production, or the production of grains to feed livestock.

Cattle raised by pastoralists may produce large amounts of methane per animal, but this has no significant effect on the net production of greenhouse gases per squared kilometre. Grass not eaten by cattle would be eaten by other methane-producing herbivores, including termites, or burnt in seasonal bush fires, releasing CO2. Pastoralist production complements, and cannot be substituted by, intensive livestock production. For example, witness the export of over 3.3 million heads per year from the semi-arid Horn of Africa via Berbera

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